Four on the Floor

At Roll-O-Rama, roller-skating is confined to precise, two-hour sessions. If you arrive early, clutching your brushed aluminum roller-skate case--the one that contains actual four-cornered skates, as opposed to in-lines--you will just have to cool your heels. In the foyer, the ticket window has a plywood panel shoved across its opening, and there is nothing to see but a sternly worded sign: NO MIDRIFF TOPS. NO VULGAR OR ABUSIVE LANGUAGE. NO CUT-OFF SHORTS. THE MANAGEMENT RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REFUSE SERVICE TO ANYONE.

But at 6:30 p.m. sharp on this Thursday, management lets everyone in. All thirteen of them. The music begins with a Beach Boys song; someone switches on the mirrored balls overhead. The sixteen-year-old floor guard, with slicked-back hair, a striped ref shirt and a whistle around his neck, skates effortlessly around the rink, hands in pockets, striking the aloofly cool note that has distinguished floor guards for four decades.

Here at Roll-O-Rama, there is not much to guard, anyway. Not a bare midriff in the place.

"I don't remember when there was, actually," says 38-year-old Wayne Barrows, who has been coming here since he was fourteen. "I did not wear midriffs myself. I was a hippie. A disco hippie. I could have shown John Travolta a thing or two."

Tonight, Barrows has not even bothered to put on skates. After a fall in the shower, he is sidelined with a sprained thumb and a big forehead bruise covered with a Snoopy Band-Aid. His six-year-old daughter, her friend and his ex-wife are out on the floor.

"They enjoy it," he says. "It's something we can still do together. I have a couple of teenage kids, too," he adds. "I don't know if they would like this or not. I don't know how square this would be to them."

Probably pretty square. Roller-skating, even during its late Seventies Cher/disco phase, has always been a squarely square activity. As if to illustrate this point, the Roll-O-Rama DJ breaks onto the PA with a public-service message. "Let's get you out onto the skating floor," he says, as lite rap pulsates in the background. "And please make sure your laces are tied around your ankles, not hanging on the floor. Moms and dads, no carrying your kids in your arms while on skates."

"Maybe skating is the thing that bridges the gap," Barrows decides. "It's what we did before we found out what partying was."

And what you do twenty years later, when you're sick of partying. At the moment, the small group of skaters on the floor consists of moms who have rediscovered good clean fun, kids who are young enough to consider this wild nightlife, and members of extended families who have always skated, coached skating teams, maybe even produced a few floor guards.

For Barrows, the whole scene is stuck in some kind of cultural limbo. But, hey! In fact, it is time to limbo. Floor guards, take your places.

"It's the exact same routine, every time," says Kay Ambrose, whose eleven-year-old daughter, Eris, is a skating limbo specialist. "There's the couples' skate, the backward skate, the limbo, the shoot-the-duck contest, the hokey pokey. It's the same every time, and I'm addicted."

Ambrose, a Park Hill piano teacher, took up roller-skating four years ago for reasons that were mildly fitness-oriented. But the social aspect of the sport soon outweighed any cardiovascular benefit.

"I started at US on Wheels in Westminster," Ambrose recalls, "and their floor is cement or something, and everyone kept talking about the great wooden floor at Roll-O-Rama, but Roll-O-Rama was in Welby, which I thought was closer to Greeley."

In reality, the small farming town of Welby, located on what were once the plains northeast of Denver, has been absorbed by Commerce City from the south and Westminster from the north. The rink, as it turned out, is only three miles from Ambrose's house, even though Roll-O-Rama's location at the end of a dirt road across from a farm keeps it looking quite rural. Ambrose makes the trip several times every week, as much for the company as for the skating. The friendships that develop here are not what you would call deep, but they are comfortable, and they seem to last forever.

"There's Anthony," Ambrose says, "and that's his son--they've both coached speed-skating teams." It looks as though Anthony has a new wife and also a toddler. "That woman with the skate covers, that's Joy. She's a very good skater. She can skate backwards. That kid with the long hair is Alex Diaz. He does a mean hokey pokey, with hip action. I've gotten to know his mother."

You get the sense that Kay Ambrose and her skating buddies have simply rolled into their rightful places in the history of Roll-O-Rama, the particulars of which are legendary among the regulars. They like to say that this is the oldest skating rink in Colorado. (It is not.) They talk about how the Ventures played here in the early Sixties. Or maybe it was Herman's Hermits. It could have been Paul Revere and the Raiders. Definitely, there was once a house band, but no one remembers its name.